How to attract followers to your cause

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Peter Drucker

No one follows anyone else without being motivated to do so. Look at any situation where men or women follow a leader and you will discover definite reasons. Luck or unusual circumstances may play a part. But mostly it is because of actions that the leader takes. You can use one of the most powerful motivators on the planet and it will usually cost you little or nothing.

So what is this powerful motivator of human behavior that costs so little and yet will almost always attract followers? It’s simple: everyone wants to feel important, from the youngest child, to the oldest grandmother or grandfather. Making others feel important will almost always attract people to your cause. After basic survival, it is one of the most important of human needs. It is frequently the real reason behind both a child's tantrum and an adult's rudeness.

A recent television special sought the reason that some children became school-ground bullies. Why do some children insist on trying to dominate and threaten their playmates? With the rise of Internet opportunities, some children have been bullied electronically to the point where they commit suicide. Why do some children torment and persecute other children to this degree?

Queried after the fact, bullies which have caused extreme distress and harm are genuinely regretful of their actions. Sociologists thought that bullies were less intelligent. They thought that these would be the kids that couldn't do well in class. However, in many cases, this just wasn't true.

What they did discover was that bullies got a sense of importance by lording it over others. As one former bully, now grown up, told television viewers: "The more I was able to make weaker kids do what I wanted or feel bad, the more important I felt."

Now this same motivator used in a positive way can have a tremendously powerful effect. Toward the end of the Civil War, General Robert E. Lee faced a force of 100,000 Union troops with only 30,000 of his own. Just as he was about to be overrun, the Texas Brigade commanded by General John Gregg showed up.

As related by Alf J. Mapp, Jr., in his book Frock Coats and Epaulets, "Lee rode up to the front of the brigade, stood in his stirrups, raised his hat from his head and boomed above the martial din, ‘Texans always move them.’

An ear-splitting yell rose from the brigade. One of Gregg's couriers, with tears running down his cheeks, shouted, 'I would charge hell itself for that old man!'"

Making one feel important is more powerful as a motivator than money, promotion, working conditions, or almost anything else. So you just know that we do everything possible to make others feel important. Right? Wrong.

Unfortunately we frequently - and sometimes despite our best intentions - do the exact opposite. When we meet a surly clerk, we don't think, "This person needs to feel important, and I'm going to make him or her feel that way." Oh no, not us! We think, "How dare this person talk that way to me. I'll show him how really unimportant he is compared with me."

So, we play a game of one up-man-ship in rudeness. The results are perfectly predictable. We may have made the other person feel bad, but we don’t feel any better. And usually we do not get what we want, either.

If we have more power than the other person, we will probably get our way. Our subordinate will put up with our tirade, and probably won’t argue with us.

But at what cost?

Analysts term this style of misleadership, "manager disrespect." Professor Jack Mendleson at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana reported that, "Preliminary research findings show that manager disrespect has reached an epidemic level in the U.S."

So many leaders don't lead. They confront others with manager disrespect. If they have the power they may dominate the situation. But again, at what cost? And you may still not succeed in getting the object of your actions to do what you want.

Yes, when you lead with manager disrespect, you may or may not succeed. One thing, however, is certain. The person you are doing this to will not appreciate it.

You may not be able to trust that person to follow your lead or your intentions if you aren’t around in the future. In fact, if I had to bet some money, I would bet on the exact opposite. I’m not saying that there aren’t times when you must let someone know you are dissatisfied about something done or left undone. But don’t belittle that person’s importance so that they lose their self-respect – not if you want to lead and influence them.

Experienced leaders know that making others feel important is crucial. Mary Kay Ash, the founder and CEO of Mary Kay Cosmetics built a $1 billion dollar company starting with a $5000 investment using this concept.

If you aren't involved with cosmetics, you may not know of Mary Kay by name. But you may have heard of the woman who gave out pink Cadillacs to her most successful saleswomen. She passed away some years ago. but her company still maintains the philosophy behind her unusual gifts to her employees.

When she was alive I was fortunate to be selected as one of a group of about twenty professors from all over the country to visit Mary Kay and her company. In 1985, we attended one of her annual sales meetings in Dallas, Texas. About 30,000 women attend these meetings each year, and no doubt many more do so today, and it was a tremendous, motivating, and exciting experience.

To lead several hundred thousand saleswomen successfully, you have to be one heck of leader. Mary Kay fit that category. She felt that making others feel important was so critical to the success of her business that she crafted a secret technique to help her do this.

What was Mary Kay's secret technique? Simply this. She imagined that every person she saw had a sign on his or her head. The sign read: "MAKE ME FEEL IMPORTANT." Mary Kay did everything she could to obey the sign's request and it paid off in her ability to lead as a heroic leader and to attract followership.

Move over Scrooge, your day is done

Charles Dickens’ famous story, "A Christmas Carol," featured Scrooge, a "strictly business" businessman who cared little for the personal problems of his employees, specifically one Bob Crachett.

By Scrooge’s calculations, he was paying Crachett. If he didn’t like the job he could go elsewhere. Does that sound familiar?.

The days of Scrooge are long gone. Heroic corporate leaders today know that it is just good leadership to treat family issues as strategic business issues, and to let them know of their importance by giving the welfare of their employee’s families a major priority.

Peter Drucker said that it is essential to treat your subordinates as if they were volunteers, because in a modern setting, they usually are. He would have said, that even during current challenging times for job seekers, a good employee can "volunteer" elsewhere.

"The most wealthy man you never have heard of"

That was the title the media gave Bill Bartmann, when he was the 25thwealthiest man in the U.S., right ahead of Ross Perot on the ranking. He used to fly all his 3700 employees with families on a paid annual vacation. He built a billion dollar corporation by making others feel important.

He’s doing it again in the same way in the debt collection agency business by doing the right thing. He not only doesn’t threaten to break the legs of those who owe money, but rather he helps them to find jobs and to manage the repayment of their debts.

No wonder he’s working with the president of the United States to help change the laws on debt collection. I’m proud to have him on my Board of Advisors at the California Institute of Advanced Management, and I highly recommend his new book, Bouncing Back.

To sum up, you don’t need to spend a fortune to win others to your cause. All you need to do is do the right thing and use one of the most important of human motivators: make others feel important!